Being raised Catholic, when I think of the Feast of St. Nicholas I am always reminded of chocolate coins. Every December 5th we’d pull out the Christmas stockings and hang them on the mantel and in the morning we’d wake to find the stockings filled in the night by “St. Nick.” There were stickers and markers and bags of chocolate coins.
Though many people think first of Santa Claus and “Jolly ol St Nicholas” when they hear his name, I think of those stockings my mother sat up late one night cutting and sewing, the red cloth she’d gotten as remnants from the fabric store and white edging along the top. I think of the special embroidery attachment she’d put on her machine to etch our names onto them. I think of us together, hanging the stockings on the mantlepiece of the decorative fireplace, in descending order according to age, about the coins and small toys or stickers she would stay up late to place inside of each one, carefully weighing out the amounts so that no one would complain that she was partial to one over the other.
I could never manage to implement the practice in my own family. In some ways I could not wrap my head around what we were doing enough to be able to explain it to my children. We were not Catholic, we were not yet Orthodox and by the time I converted it felt too late to take hold. There were enough strange new customs to put into place; fasting and prayer and holy days and 90 minute Liturgies every week. While I plunged into the deep waters of Orthodoxy, my children played in the shallow end and I was too consumed with the bigger “giants in the road” I was encountering toward becoming Orthodox to grasp each moment along that road and explain to them the story that was unfolding around us. I was desperate for understanding and connection and making the right choices in my conversion. Some new customs found my children too late, too abstract, too foreign even if they were nostalgic for me in some way. I could not yet explain them, support them and implement them. And that’s a loss I feel today on this, the feast of St. Nicholas.